VC's Update - partnerships and donations

5 June 2018

Hi everyone,

There has been a flurry of interest over the past few days in how the University partners with external organisations and potential donors, and I just wanted to reassure you of the approach ANU takes.

The decision to withdraw from negotiations with a generous philanthropic donor is never one taken lightly, but I did so after consulting with colleagues, and with the support of the ANU Council.  As I said on Friday, we approached the opportunity offered by the Ramsay Centre in a positive and open spirit, and many staff here deserve thanks for the work they put into the project. 

ANU has an outstanding reputation as one of the world's leading institutions for humanities. Our extensive programs in classics, philosophy, history, politics, economics, music, art and literature represent some of the very best scholarship of the western liberal tradition. The opportunity to augment our teaching and research in these areas in really interesting ways, along with a generous scholarship program for students, was an attractive proposition for ANU and we were grateful to the Ramsay Centre for considering ANU as a partner. However, it was my judgement that ANU had a fundamentally different vision for the program than the Ramsay Centre, and that there was no prospect of us reaching agreement. In that context, the only responsible course of action was to withdraw and focus our University on our many other priorities. I understand this caused disappointment to some, but my first duty is to advance the University I am so proud to lead.

ANU is the recipient of generous funding from many different foundations, governments and individuals.  While, of course, the nature of negotiations with individual donors is confidential, ANU approaches all partnerships and funding opportunities with the same core set of principles. In all cases, we retain, without compromise, our academic integrity, autonomy and freedom, and ensure that any program has academic merit consistent with our status as one of the world's great universities. These core principles drive our research excellence and are key to our outstanding global reputation.

ANU has had a unique national mission since its founding to advance both Australia's understanding of the world and the world's understanding of Australia. To do this, ANU houses many centres dedicated to the study of different regions of the world including the ANU Centre for European Studies, Australian Centre for Latin American Studies, the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, and the Australian Centre for China in the World. We are also home to country and regional institutes that cover the vast breadth of the Asia-Pacific region.

I'm disappointed to see that our globally renowned Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asia) has been singled out today. The Centre is an important national institution that has received bipartisan support since its establishment.  It makes a significant contribution to Australian knowledge of regional challenges and issues in the Muslim Middle East and Central Asia, including providing training to many of our federal government departments interested in the region. It does great work on behalf of Australia that should make us all proud.

ANU Centres have received donations from a range of countries in addition to funds from government and industry. In all cases, ANU retains control of both curriculum and staffing decisions. 

The Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies received one-off donations from the private Al-Maktoum Foundation in Dubai, the Iranian Ministry of Education, and the Turkish Government in 2000-2001. All these donations were matched by ANU, enabling the Centre to have a dedicated building, establish four endowment supported positions in Arab and Islamic Studies, Persian Language and Turkish language and studies. All its activities, including appointments, have been under the exclusive control of the university. The Centre, which receives its operating budget from the University, is a great success story, with more than 1,000 undergraduate and over 200 graduate students, as well some 20-25 PhD students a year. 

I am very proud of how this university has shown an unwavering commitment to our principles, which underpin every decision of the University Executive and Council. These core principles drive our research excellence, are key to our outstanding global reputation, and are sacrosanct. I will continue to defend them, like my predecessors, at all times.



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Comment by Paul Tocchini
3.15am 6 Jun 2018

Dear Brian

I wish to congratulate you on retaining the university's,and all universities core principal.They must be rigorous in their demand for academic freedom and not descend to the one dimensional nonsense of the cultural warriors.Western culture has given us great things ,but also great conflicts usually to enforce a particular cultural view ,which many years later seem like nonsense.I attended Sydney University,where I absorbed the idea of the freedom of intellect and the respect for all cultures,long may these ideals survive  because our freedom depends on it.kind regards Paul Tocchini

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Comment by Lin Enright
9.15am 6 Jun 2018

I only did one course through the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies late in my first degree but was impressed by the quality of teaching and determination to discuss honestly all issues with students. Now I'm back from overseas, I would hope to, at least, audit some more courses such was the quality of my first exposure.

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Comment by Tessa Morris-Suzuki
9.15am 6 Jun 2018

Thank you very much for standing up firmly for the principles of academic autonomy. This is an important issue which is likely to recur. I think it might be worthwhile for the university to host a workshop, conference or similar event to discuss the fundamental principles of academic autonomy and integrity in an age of increased reliance on private funding. There are clearly people in the media and politics who do not understand them!

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Comment by Andrew Walker
9.15am 6 Jun 2018

I'm proud to see that principles come before financial incentives under current university leadership.

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Comment by Luca Biason
9.30am 6 Jun 2018

Thank you. In these highly polarised times the last thing we need is an additional twisted approach to our collective history to complete the descent into a dystopian, ultimately misinformed society.

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Comment by Dr David William Kim
9.30am 6 Jun 2018

Dear Brian,

Thank you for your view!

Yet, our university has been remained for a long time as globally 20th level. I can not see any better unless we develop the new opportunity like the academic pattern of UK (Oxford and Cambridge) Humanity strategy. I believe that we can push more than that to be in the 10th level of the world.

I hope you have the right leadership who wisely advise you well.


Dr David W. Kim (PSC)

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Comment by Andrew Benjamin
2.45pm 6 Jun 2018

I am delighted that the University has taken real leadership in defence of the humanities. It is perhaps important to understand how the relationship between the Faculty of Arts and the Ramsey Centre was allowed to develop such that it took action from outside the Faculty to terminate it.

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Comment by Peter Marstin
5.30pm 6 Jun 2018

My understanding from the press is that the closure of negotiations was done precipitously and that the Ramsay negotiators thought they were coming to an amicable agreement as to the ANU's influence on academic staff and curriculum. There was reportage that the ANU feared a 'revolt': -- what this mean I don't know - perhaps by the ANU Leftist academic cohort. In any case, many people connected with this proposal and 'fellow travellers' feel shocked and let down. I am sure this debacle will have souring of relations between the ANU and many good people of substance.

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Comment by Bill Ranken
6.30pm 6 Jun 2018

Dear Professor, I respectfully submit that it is most unfortunate that the University has been unable to deal with the Ramsay Foundation without achieving a mutual understanding of how and why a proposal is rejected. In this case it is if particular concern that a former Prime Minister finds it appropriate to write a public letter about his concerns about the process. It seems to me to beg questions about the way ANU chooses to communicate with donors and about its capacity to reach an outcome which gives donors confidence in the future of ANU as a global leader.

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Comment by Colette Discombe
8.30pm 6 Jun 2018

Thank you, I believe you and your counterparts have made the right decision for the future of our university.

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Comment by Jack Bowers
8.15am 7 Jun 2018

There was clearly an agenda embedded with this course. Ostensibly, it was an attractive proposition, but the NTEU was absolutely correct in bringing that agenda to light, and it was terrific to see the Vice-Chancellor make a decision based upon principle. This was an important decision that added to the value of the ANU.

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Comment by Max Hopwood
9.15am 7 Jun 2018

As an outsider, I write to congratulate the VC Brian Schmidt and the ANU for deciding to withdraw from the Ramsay Centre deal. Academic integrity is fundamental to rigorous scholarship. The decision by ANU sets an example for other institutions throughout Australia to follow when large and tempting carrots are dangled before them. The ANU is indeed an academic leader, nationally and internationally! 

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Comment by William Maley
9.45am 7 Jun 2018

Dear Brian,

A comment that was passed to me by a former senior public servant:

"The ANU clearly dodged a bullet by pulling out from negotiations with the Ramsay Centre. The commentary in The Australian in the last few days has made it quite clear that in the likely event of any future differences of opinion on issues to do with appointments or curriculum, people associated with the Ramsay Centre like Mr Abbott would have simply tried to start a culture war in the media if they weren't getting their way: such behaviour is by now thoroughly coded in their DNA. No university will want to find itself so embroiled. The hissy fits being put on by the usual suspects - Messrs Abbott and Sheridan, Dr Donnelly, Professor Craven etc - will confirm to the ANU that their decision was correct. But they will also have made it clear to other universities that the Ramsay Centre, for all that it is well cashed-up, is likely to be trouble on the hoof. I have a feeling that Ramsay's plan to support an undergraduate degree in western civilisation may now be pretty much dead.

The sad thing is that there's nothing basically objectionable to the idea of such a degree. But, as seems to happen nearly always, the conservatives have overplayed their hand. A respectable university like ANU would want to be able to get the best scholars around, not run the risk of having foisted upon it the sorts of marginal academic polemicists who can only get their stuff published in Quadrant."


William Maley

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Comment by Robert Kohn
1.30pm 7 Jun 2018

Brian schmidt is a great scholar, but this comment is disappointing for lack of content or explanation. There may well be a good reason, but that is not apparent in Professor schmidt's response.

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Comment by Dr Michael Tyquin
4.30pm 7 Jun 2018

Ssorry Brian, But many beg to differ. The reputation of the ANU will be tainted by this. It seems one rule for one-not all.

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Comment by George Brenan
4.45pm 7 Jun 2018

 I have no difficulties with the ANU decision per se, but one would have thought a 9 para statement might say something about what the differences in vision actually amounted to from an ANU perspective. Instead, it is left to the rumour mills to continue their potentially self propagated perspectives.

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Comment by Neil Baird
5pm 7 Jun 2018

I'm not sure why the Ramsay Institute doesn't start its own institution - surely they have enough funds to create infrastructure and jobs for people with the 3.3 billion they received?

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Comment by Peter Verstappen
7pm 7 Jun 2018

The front men they chose betrayed their agenda. Good call, Prof Schmidt.

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Comment by Anthony Phillips
7.30pm 7 Jun 2018

I wish to add my support to the decision taken by the VC. Ironically, one cannot help but note that academic freedom and independent scholarly inquiry are centrepieces of the Western liberal tradition. They are to be defended against ideological totalitarian mindsets and conservative cultural warriors. Any involvement with donors, or for that matter being in a position of dependence of them, must be treated with great care and strong firewalls. Statements in the media from the usual suspects indicate an inability to understand this. They seem based on an idea that universities and think tanks that cloak lobbying for interests in academic language are the same thing. A reference in the media to "Ramsey academics" underlines the point.

It is another irony that post-modernism, deplored by conservatives 20 years ago, is now their standard way of thinking, all claims to knowledge are equal and it is just about who wins, in funding or otherwise.

Finally, because I cannot resist, one recalls the report that Ghandi, when asked about Western civilisation, said it would be a very good thing. One might add, if those supposedly advocating for Western civilisation actually showed an appreciation of it and its underpinnings that would be a good thing.

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Comment by Jonathan Wilson
8.15pm 7 Jun 2018

I'm disturbed by what's transpired. Young people aren't very familiar with what Western Institutions are how they how they came to be. So I thought the Ramsay Centre was (in principle) a great idea.

I struggle to see what exactly the "grave concerns" were and what specifically was "radically conservative" about the proposed curriculum? Things like the how, where, when our legal/financial/political systems emerged and how they've evolved are surely apolitical lines of enquiry. You can be a Marx devotee and still understand those things.

So this doesn't make sense (via Fairfax):

"Academics who spoke to Fairfax Media said they were concerned about reports that the "secretive negotiations" were considering if Ramsay Centre staff could sit in on classes to monitor content or exclude certain diverse writers and political theories such as Marxism from the degree."

Did Tony Abbott's statements really everyone over the edge? Is that all it takes? He was alluding to the differences in social and economic outcomes between countries with and without certain institutions. Which isn't political but an observation of fact, whether you like the guy or not.

And (via The Australian) what about a director of CAIS accusing Salman Rushdie of "literary terrorism" for his book Satanic Verses? Or disputing Hezbollah's designation as a terrorist organization. Is that not "radical"? Should Matt King get involved there as well? Notwithstanding CAIS's contributions, are these views in-line with ANU's "vision" for these programs?

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Comment by Gail Lynette Vincent
10pm 7 Jun 2018

Dear Brian and Colleagues,

Thank you and Congratulations for pulling away from this.

The Quadrant article was clear and alarming in its' implications:The Ramsay Centre was the brainchild of Tony Abbott as a conduit for indoctrination in his particularly narrow view of the world.  He would have been impossible to negotiate with, as he is incapable of stopping himself from bullying his way into every decision.

I believe that the integrity of my Alma Mater would have been compromised by the Ramsay Centre. I can still be proud that my degree in Art History & Curatorship (1999) was from the ANU.  It was very broad ranging and could have qualified as a degree in "Western Civilisation" but was fortunately without ideology.

I know that it was a particularly brave decision and I thank you for making it.  I'm horrified by the way the media has reacted - even Stan Grant on the ABC tonight was deeply offensive.

I hope that you are able, not only to withstand the enemies without but devise a plan to defend us all against the constant and determined undermining of all that many of us most value. This is only one example of their campaign. It's frightening.

Gail Vincent

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Comment by James Philips
10.15pm 7 Jun 2018

There is one express and one implied reason in the VC's note - an unspecified  difference of vision between the Ramsay Centre and the University, and an unspecified threat to the University's integrity and freedom.  Without a more substantive explanation, there is a risk that the decision will be seen by many as a politicised decision that levered Mr Abbott's ill-considered and exaggerated piece in 'Quadrant'.

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Comment by Will Jones
11.15pm 7 Jun 2018

 Dear Vice Chancellor,

Given the dearth of information available to members of the public it is impossible to judge whether your decision to reject generous funding from the Ramsay Centre was justified. I do wonder however how accepting funding from the government of Iran can be justified under any circumstances. Many of the comments posted in relation to Ramsay Centre funding talk of the importance of maintaining academic independence; academic (or political) freedom is not a luxury enjoyed by the people of Iran.

In the interests of maintaining ANU's reputation I think it essential you provide further comment why you came to the conclusion that no agreement between the University and the Ramsay Centre was possible. I feel sure the Ramsay Centre would agree to such disclosure as they appear to have been surprised by your decision.

Yours sincerely

Will Jones

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Comment by Ruairi Toale
2pm 8 Jun 2018

Dear Brian,

It is very interesting that you have dedicated one quarter of your statement to defend the donations received from the Middle East. I am not a lawyer, but when someone is so fervent in their defence of something that appears on the surface to be fishy, it is usually an indication of guilt.

"Iranian Ministry of Education" that did give me a chuckle.

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Comment by James Jupp
2.15pm 8 Jun 2018

Dear Vice Chancellor, 

I am only a Visitor, but have been for two years and was previously director of the Centre for Immigration Studies at the ANU until it was terminated by the deliberate policy of the then Prime Minister,John Howard.   Apart from that, I am an experienced political scientist and can recognise a problem when I see those who have been denigrating universities for years suddenly turn round and "defend them".   I am familiar with the US "Western Civ" and "GreatBooks" which are widely taught in lower level colleges around the US.   One I found typical was in Florida where the college notice advertised "Communism against Americanism".    The basic political problem is that you have been offered a gift and support from those who have a clearcut political agenda likely to cause disruption and biased teaching and support from political agents who have their own agenda.   In short support I support what you have done.  

James Jupp,AM, FASSA, PhD(London) etc.  School of Demography.

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Comment by Grant Conlon
7.15pm 8 Jun 2018

I am not an academic in any way shape or form, which puts me firmly on the same footing as Messrs Abbott and Howard, whose obvious political, cultural and racial biases should preclude them from any input or comment on any issue. So, no comment.

However, I raise an issue here, whilst I have an appropriate audience, to express my unbounded annoyance at the use here and elsewhere of the term "post-modernism". This term is a complete oxymoron, unparalleled by any other intellectual term that I know of. The very definition of the word modern precludes there being anything following it. Before anyone concerns themselves with the mangling of academic independence they should worry about the language used to discuss it.

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Comment by Norva Lo
6.15pm 9 Jun 2018

Thank you and the ANU council for giving academic freedom top priority.

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Comment by Jim Wallace
9.15am 11 Jun 2018

Having read Judith Sloan's comment along with so many others about the University's rejection of the Ramsay scholarships, I stand absolutely disgusted at a level of hypocrisy that embraces Chinese's influence and rejects discussion of Western culture.

 I also accepted Judith's suggestion to read the Chancellors State of the University Address in January and can understand her disbelief at the lack of any sense of unbiased academic inquiry.  It is such a sad testimony to the state of the University that the Chancellor can say "We are a community of people who are brave, who are bold, and who are fearless when it comes to speaking out about issues that matter." And then reject any duscussion or topic  that doesn't reinforce, let alone challenge, the clearly Marxist ideology of the University.

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Comment by Michael
9.15am 12 Jun 2018

What a limited and basically unscholarly oieceof political correctness. I am glad I am no longer an ANU academic.